E-mail that prompted complaint over UI religion class instructor

E-mail that prompted complaint over UI religion class instructor

From: Kenneth J. Howell

Date: Tue, May 4, 2010 at 9:45 PM

Subject: Utilitarianism and Sexuality (for those in 447 FYI)

Dear Students:

Since there is a question on the final exam about utilitarianism (see the review sheet), I thought I would help with an example. I realized after my lectures on moral theory that even though I talked about the substance of utilitarianism, I did not identify it as such and so you may not have been able to see it.

It turns out that our discussion of homosexuality brings up the issue of utilitarianism. In class, our discussion of the morality of homosexual acts was very incomplete because any moral issue about which people disagree ALWAYS raises a more fundamental issue about criteria. In other words, by what criteria should we judge whether a given act is right or wrong?

Before looking at the issue of criteria, however, we have to remind ourselves of the ever-present tendency in all of us to judge morality by emotion. The most frequent reason I hear people supporting same-sex marriage is that they know some gay couples or individuals. Empathy is a noble human quality but right or wrong does not depend on who is doing the action or on how I feel about those people, just as judging an action wrong should not depend on disliking someone. This might seem obvious to a right thinking person but I have encountered many well-educated people who do not (or cannot?) make the distinction between persons and acts when engaging moral reasoning. I encourage you to read the final essay editorial I sent earlier to reflect on this. In short, to judge an action wrong is not to condemn a person. A person and his/her acts can be distinguished for the purposes of morality.

So, then, by what criterion should we judge whether sexual acts are right or wrong? This is where utilitarianism comes in. Utilitarianism in the popular sense is fundamentally a moral theory that judges right or wrong by its practical outcomes. It is somewhat akin to a cost/benefit analysis. So, when a woman is deciding whether it's right to have an abortion, the utilitarian says it's right or wrong based on what the best outcome is. Similarly, a man who is trying to decide whether he should cheat on his wife, if he is a utilitarian, will weigh the various consequences. If the cheating side of the ledger is better, he will conclude that it's okay to cheat. If the faithful side is better, he will refrain from cheating.

I think it's fair to say that many, maybe most Americans employ some type of utilitarianism in their moral decision making. But there are at least two problems. One is that to judge the best outcome can be very subjective. What may be judged good for the pregnant woman may not be good for the baby. What may be judged good for the about-to-cheat-husband may not good for his wife or his children. This problem of subjectivity is inherent in utilitarianism for a second reason. Utilitarianism counsels that moral decisions should NOT be based on the inherent meaning of acts. Acts are only good or bad relative to outcomes. The natural law theory that I expounded in class assumes that human acts have an inherent meaning (remember my fist vs. extended hand of friendship example).

One of the most common applications of utilitarianism to sexual morality is the criterion of mutual consent. It is said that any sexual act is okay if the two or more people involved agree. Now no one can (or should) deny that for a sexual act to be moral there must be consent. Certainly, this is one reason why rape is morally wrong. But the question is whether this is enough.

If two men consent to engage in sexual acts, according to utilitarianism, such an act would be morally okay. But notice too that if a ten year old agrees to a sexual act with a 40 year old, such an act would also be moral if even it is illegal under the current law. Notice too that our concern is with morality, not law. So by the consent criterion, we would have to admit certain cases as moral which we presently would not approve of. The case of the 10 and 40 year olds might be excluded by adding a modification like "informed consent." Then as long as both parties agree with sufficient knowledge, the act would be morally okay. A little reflection would show, I think, that "informed consent" might be more difficult to apply in practice than in theory. But another problem would be where to draw the line between moral and immoral acts using only informed consent. For example, if a dog consents to engage in a sexual act with its human master, such an act would also be moral according to the consent criterion. If this impresses you as far-fetched, the point is not whether it might occur but by what criterion we could say that it is wrong. I don't think that it would be wrong according to the consent criterion.

But the more significant problem has to do with the fact that the consent criterion is not related in any way to the NATURE of the act itself. This is where Natural Moral Law (NML) objects. NML says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same. How do we know this? By looking at REALITY. Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Men and women are not interchangeable. So, a moral sexual act has to be between persons that are fitted for that act. Consent is important but there is more than consent needed.

One example applicable to homosexual acts illustrates the problem. To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the "woman" while the other acts as the "man." In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don't want to be too graphic so I won't go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body.

Now recall that I mentioned in class the importance of gaining wisdom from the past. One part of wisdom we gain from such knowledge is how people today came to think of their bodies. I won't go into details here but a survey of the last few centuries reveals that we have gradually been separating our sexual natures (reality) from our moral decisions. Thus, people tend to think that we can use our bodies sexually in whatever ways we choose without regard to their actual structure and meaning. This is also what lies behind the idea of sex change operations. We can manipulate our bodies to be whatever we want them to be.

If what I just said is true, then this disassociation of morality and sexual reality did not begin with homosexuality. It began long ago. But it took a huge leap forward in the wide spread use of artificial contraceptives. What this use allowed was for people to disassociate procreation and children from sexual activity. So, for people who have grown up only in a time when there is no inherent connection between procreation and sex –- notice not natural but manipulated by humans –- it follows "logically" that sex can mean anything we want it to mean.

Natural Moral Theory says that if we are to have healthy sexual lives, we must return to a connection between procreation and sex. Why? Because that is what is REAL. It is based on human sexual anatomy and physiology. Human sexuality is inherently unitive and procreative. If we encourage sexual relations that violate this basic meaning, we will end up denying something essential about our humanity, about our feminine and masculine nature.

I know this doesn't answer all the questions in many of your minds. All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult. That implies questioning what you have heard around you. Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions. As a final note, a perceptive reader will have noticed that none of what I have said here or in class depends upon religion. Catholics don't arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality.

Kenneth J. Howell Ph.D.

Director, St. John's Institute of Catholic Thought

Adjunct Associate Professor of Religion, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Comments

Comments for this post are read only.

Tony wrote on July 09, 2010 at 1:07 pm

There is nothing wrong with this email! Is it now wrong for a professor to talk about the views of a class he is supposed to be teaching? I bet that emails that are actually bad have actually been sent by professors with no consequence!

freethot wrote on July 09, 2010 at 5:07 pm

"Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions. As a final note, a perceptive reader will have noticed that none of what I have said here or in class depends upon religion. Catholics don't arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality."

Sorry, but I disagree. "Natural reality" in this context is religious belief or dogma. Natural moral law is based in religion. True natural reality would state that there is no evidence for the existence of a supreme being. If two consenting adults want to have sex, same gender, that is their moral decision, not yours. There is evidence of same sex activity in other animals, so wouldn't that be "natural reality". Catholic thought is just that.

kheff wrote on July 09, 2010 at 10:07 pm

"Natural law" is based upon nature. Natural law regards how our bodies are designed to operate. Social realities might not follow natural law, but it is still "natural reality" that our bodies are designed for heterosexual sex and that homosexual sex does not follow natural law. You don't have to agree with the professor's conclusion that homosexual sex is wrong, but you can't argue with natural law. He's right. Whether you view homosexual acts as morally right or wrong depends, just as the professor stated, on whether your views are in line with natural law or utilitarianism. And he doesn't specify that you have to choose one path or the other.

In a course based upon Catholic thought, it sort of makes sense that he would teach the basics of Catholic morality, don't you think?

mellamoandres wrote on July 10, 2010 at 1:07 am

Tell me, what does natural moral law say when nature itself supports homosexuality? Now, I know that this source is from Wikipedia, but bear with me.

The average Wikipedia article contains, on average, one fourth as many errors as the average Encyclopedia Britannica article. -Anyone- can edit it, which means that articles are usually kept current. It also takes the patent of information away from people with Ph.D.s, which is good, because a title does not necessarily indicate actual expertise. To Wikipedia, all users are created equal, so if people with doctorates are worried about losing their status as experts, they should stay on their toes.

Even if you want to discredit Wiki-knowledge, the information in the article came from actual sources. It doesn't take a lot of digging to discover that the scientific community has discovered real homosexual occurrences in the animal kingdom, and not just in a few isolated cases. It has even been suggested that extra-heterosexual behavior is universal in the animal kingdom. Complementary or not, same-sex pairings exist in--no--throughout nature.

So we are left with a small problem:

1. Natural law (according to homophobic people--in this example, Catholic doctrine) claims that sex should only occur between two complementary organisms. The author of this e-mail makes a special point to say that complementary means different-but-compatible, with an emphasis on different. Never mind all of the loopholes that this leaves for the likes of pedophilia, cross-species relations, etc. (none of which should be compared to homosexuality).

2. Nature (according to hundreds, possibly thousands of independent individuals and organizations studying animal behavior) demonstrates homosexual behavior in virtually all observably cognizant, sexually-reproducing species. In other words, homosexual sex is a universal part of nature.

3. Animals, lacking free will, must follow natural law, without exception.

One of these must be wrong. We'll solve this problem with an analysis of the world as it would be if we assume that these three options are wrong, starting with option one.

1. Natural law does not oppose homosexuality. Indeed, since homosexual sex may be seen in every member of the animal kingdom, homosexual sex is just as much in communion with the law of nature as heterosexual sex.

2. Nothing ever happened. It's not true that between 30 and 75 percent of all sexual interactions between giraffes are male-to-male. That's just an optical illusion. ... They're shaking hands! That's it. They must be shaking hands. ... ... ... Of course, it would be very difficult to prove this hypothesis, because in trying to prove it, you might disprove yourself. Virtually everyone in animal husbandry knows that sometimes, your bull is just gay.

3. Natural law says that homosexuality is wrong, and homosexuality in animals is proof that they actually have free will. Animals, like humans, have the ability to choose between right and wrong. Extending this into the metaphysical universe (We're still talking about Catholicism, too.), this means that animals are entitled to an eternity in Heaven, should they choose good, and an eternity in Hell, should they choose evil. In that case, animals should be given full rights of any Christian, including full inclusion in the seven sacraments.

Obviously, options 2 and 3 are ridiculous. Natural law does not say that homosexuality is wrong. Instead of deciding what natural moral law says, perhaps you should ask your resident biologist to make sure that these things don't actually occur in nature, before you make this assumption.

= = =

Disclaimer: I am currently converting to Catholicism, but this particular element I do not agree with. I think that this is another example of human fallibility, such as the arrest of Galileo, the Inquisition, the crusades, or the Holy Wars. The Catholic Church is not perfect, but it is very good. They are horribly misguided when it comes to sexuality, but even the most promiscuous of us only spend a fraction of our lifetimes having sex. I figure that all of the things the Church has done right more than make up for the few things it's doing wrong. I pray for the enlightenment of the clergy every day.

As for biology, it has always been a small passion of mine. It's a shame that people don't really understand it very well, though. See, science is the study of the physical world as it exists. If you believe that God created the world, then God created the world as it exists. Science tells us that that includes the Big Bang Theory*, evolution, and homosexuality among animals. If your religious view of the world is not in communion with the actual world, then you cannot possibly be in communion with the God who made the world as it exists. God made the universe with the Big Bang Theory. He populated the Earth with speciation. (Genesis is not a history lesson.) God made homosexual animals and homosexual humans. Making them deny their sexuality and replace it with another sexuality is morally wrong, and I would even say that it's offensive to God.

= = =

Footnotes:

* Do not confuse the scientific word theory, i.e. an explanation of how something in nature happens using rigid standards and thousands of peers forming a crucible of reason in order to find actual truth, with a semantic theory, i.e. a conjecture or a stab in the dark. Scientific theories are explanations of how things happen. Scientific laws are statements of things that happen. For example, a scientific law would be worded thus: "Evolution occurs." A scientific theory would explain how evolution happens. Scientific theories are not lower than scientific laws. They do not become scientific laws. In many cases, they are more important than scientific laws, because we use scientific theories in our practical application of science.

kheff wrote on July 10, 2010 at 2:07 am

You seem to be confusing "nature" and "natural law." If you are actually interested in the difference, you could do some research and understand it. Natural law is a fascinating topic. An email comment won't do it justice. Or, even better, ask the professor, who has spent much of his life researching it and is, moreso than the rest of us, an expert on the topic.

On a side note, unrelated to the content of this article and specific to the previous post, I wouldn't recommend becoming Catholic if you disagree with the Church, especially on issues so important as sexual ethics. The Catholic Church isn't really a cafeteria style religion. It's more take it or leave it, IMHO. You either believe in the authority of the Church or you don't.

kheff wrote on July 10, 2010 at 10:07 am

Also note, natural law is based upon nature, but is not the same as nature. Finding an example of something in nature does not make it permissible for human beings. Many animals in nature eat their young. Many animals consume what they defecate. Many animals destroy the handicapped among them. Finding it in nature does not make it a correct action for human beings. And human beings are not the same as all other organisms in makeup or in actions. Thus nature is not natural law, but natural law has its roots in nature. Perhaps that will give you a start on the topic.

bgrave1 wrote on July 10, 2010 at 12:07 pm

So is this natural?

http://purinaanimalallstars.yahoo.com/?v=7481621

Lets at least all take a moment to laugh..... Then back to discussion....

increvable wrote on July 10, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Also note, natural law is based upon nature, but is not the same as nature. Finding an example of something in nature does not make it permissible for human beings.

Now you're introducing another set of unexamined standards to allow you to pick and choose from the examples available in nature. This rhetorical strategy is called "moving the goalposts".

kheff wrote on July 10, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Saying natural law is not the same as nature isn't exactly "moving the goalposts." It's stating the fact that they are not the same thing. I never stated examples from nature as evidence, just said that they are not necessarily evidence of natural law. As I stated before, if you are interested in natural law, you research more about it. You aren't going to have a very thorough understanding of it through reading comments on an article, nor can the concept be thoroughly explained here.

increvable wrote on July 16, 2010 at 12:07 am

I've read Aquinas, thank you very much, and I've learned quite a lot from reading comments on articles when the participants engage in actual conversation. Your only response to anything anyone has yet said to you, however, is, "No, you're wrong. You should do more research."

So let's take this back to basics. I maintain that natural law's BS because it takes our mutable cultural traditions and asserts without justification that they arise out of the fundamental structure of our biology and the rules of our universe. Otherwise, using the word "natural" doesn't mean anything. When confronted with examples drawn from nature that contradict what you say natural law is, you say that those examples are invalid. By what standard do you invalidate some examples but not others? Natural's not in it. Either you're appealing to human tradition or you think you know what the divine law is, and either argument is preferable to your saying that some nature is unnatural.

kheff wrote on July 16, 2010 at 10:07 am

OK, if it bothers you so much that I haven't explained in any depth the principles of natural moral law in article comments and instead suggest you read a better source on the topic, and if you feel that, even after reading Aquinas, you need an explanation of NML, all right. While I won't sit and spend hours typing it out here (I do have a life outside of this comment thread), I'll give a snapshot.

Natural moral law does not state that any behavior found in nature is acceptable. I think Aquinas covers much of this. Cultural traditions, examples from nature, etc., are well and good, but that's not NML. NML requires an understanding of an action's intrinsic meaning. For example, animals destroying other animals because they are handicapped happens in nature, but it is not moral for human beings to do that. Animals in nature eat their young, but it's not moral behavior for humans. Humans are not equal to animals in all things. Rather, human beings are above animal behavior because we have the ability to reason morally and make moral decisions.

NML asks what is the meaning of a behavior, and is that behavior a moral behavior. What is the purpose of an action, such as sexual behavior, and what is the moral way to use that behavior? In the case of sexual behavior, the intrinsic meaning of sex is that it is unitive and procreative. NML asks if you can take that act and separate it from either of those two meanings and still have a moral act. It looks at the NATURE of the act and applies MORAL reasoning to it to determine whether it is acceptable. For a long list of reasons that I'll be happy to list for you if you really need it, but I won't take the time now if you aren't actually interested, moral reasoning based upon Church understanding states that it is not morally acceptable to separate the sexual act from its unitive and procreative nature. (There's that nature word.) Thus, having sex exclusively to get pregnant but not as a unitive act between spouses would be wrong, morally. (That's the moral application.) Or, having sex just to show love but ignoring the procreative nature -- as with homosexuality, since it excludes the possibility of procreation, or as with contraceptive sex, would also be immoral. Having sex purely for pleasure, as in a one night stand, would also be a selfish act and not morally acceptable. Because sex is meant to unite people and is procreative in nature, those aspects of sex cannot be ignored or excluded according to NML. Thus, NML is not based upon all things found in nature, but on a moral evaluation of the MEANING of those acts and applying that morality to the act itself. So things like kidnapping, mutilation, murder, abuse, deceit, and a host of other actions, while found in nature, are not acceptable according to NML.

Stating that homosexuality happens in nature, or that homosexual tendencies are found in a percentage of the human population, does not mean those acts are acceptable based on NML simply because they are found in nature. All that does is give us information about the demographics of homosexuality. While that information is helpful for other purposes, it does not mean that those tendencies are acceptable according to NML simply because it exists in nature.

Clearbrook wrote on July 16, 2010 at 3:07 pm
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Natural Law -- as most generally applied in the context of Moral Codes, means the way something was DESIGNED to be used.

For a simplified example:

If hammers and screwdrivers were "Naturally Designed" and by the nature of either evolution or creation the way they were for some specific purpose (it really doesn't matter -- the arguement remains fundementally the same) then to use it for a purpose it was not designed of is against "Natural Law". That is not at all a statement that "Natural Law" must be the way you make moral determinations, but if you do, it defines things along the lines of their function as they at least "seem" to be designed.

I can hammer a nail with a screwdriver. Pliers work better than that. A hammer works better yet. If "Natural Law" is only a matter of pragmatism, I can hammer that nail with whatever I please, and even use a plain old rock if I wanted. I have the screwdriver. The hammer is in the garage and the sidewalk has not been shoveled. I hammer the nail with a screwdriver.

Was I "Morally Wrong" to do that? It depends on whether the purpose of the hammer was important to me as moral indicator. If the purpose of the hammer WAS crucial, I was was morally wrong to use a screwdriver, using an oversimplified view of "Natural Law" in this case to make that moral judgement.

"Natural Law" as it is generally applied, looks at the world around us. The way rivers run can be used as an example. For some, based upon "Natural Law" it is immoral to dam up the rivers and dredge the channels. That is indeed a way that "Natural Law" is applied to morality for some. In the limited context of homosexuality, the presumption is that particular body parts are "designed" to function in certain ways. If your moral code does not take into consideration "Natural Law" you might care less about what they appear to be designed to do. If you adhere to the Conceptual Framework of "Natural Law" then what it seems to be designed for becomes important.

We are often born with defects. Holes in our hearts, literally. I may be a pyromaniac at birth because of some genetic predisposition. You are possibly inclined to homosexuallity at birth. Most would consider all of these defects that are not a matter to judge upon, just a statement of truth.

Here is where it gets interesting, because at this point, "Natural Law" as a basis of Moral Codes can branch. One branch says accomodate "defects" and usually does not even qualify those items as defects per se, but attaches more pleasing labels to them. The other, more classical version of "Natural Law" makes no allowances. This is simpler and few people step past this into stranger variations.

The first accomodating version has a problem, though. What are we going to accomodate? If I like to burn things down, should I be allowed to do it? How about pedophiles? Should we allow them to do as they please? That is the problem with the accomdating version. Of course we can then use Utilitarianism to deal with Pyromaniacs, but it doesn't work so well with Pedophiles, and as soon as we start blending our Moral Structure, we are more moralizing and rationalizing than were are seeking any Moral Truth. At that point it is easier to reject ALL morality and go with the Law of the Jungle as the ultimate decider. He who can get away with it can get away with it!

"Natural Law" as a moral basis, works cleanly only if no exceptions are allowed. Once an exception is allowed, the rationale for why you accept this and not that becomes arbitrary and meaningless. From a pragmatic (utilitarian, if you will) standpoint, we NEED social moral codes and we need some sort of cohession in them. Without this, even Laws will not prevent chaos.

What animals do does not define "Natural Law" and that is an arguement only used by someone who would argue that Pyromaniacs should be allowed to do as they please, morally. It is very weak. This would be something good for you to study further, because you will face this again in the Catholic Church with people better educated than I on the matter.

The main flaw you have is in dealing WITH flaws in our bodies. Obviously, we (and likely as not the same is true of animals) have things that go wrong with our genetic codes. Things like Bipolar disorder can be traced to genetic damage, as can sickle cell anemia and hemophilia. You tried to make your focus too narrow, and that is very easy to do.

I hope this helps.

Tony wrote on July 10, 2010 at 11:07 am

You have every right to hold your views as Dr. Howell does to hold his. For a professor that welcomes all kinds of viewpoints like him and is forthcoming in his view that he personally believes in certain things but not requiring anyone else to do the same- I think he has every right to let people know about where he stands on the issues

bgrave1 wrote on July 10, 2010 at 11:07 am

There are many great points to this email. For the class that this email was generated, you are lucky to have a progressive minded instructor. The point was the same but in such a fresh description.... Now on to the point that I have a concern about.... For as long as I can remember, when sexuality discussions reach a fever pitch, one side inevitably goes to the olde "It's because GOD wants it that way" comment. The down side of course to this comment is that the discussion is over. Now it seems that like minded individuals that usually resort to said comment will now feel poised to use the new catchy one, "Because NATURE wants it that way." It nevers fails to amaze and impress me how such a circular issue gets so much attention. My 2 pennies.......

WRITETORIGHT wrote on July 10, 2010 at 11:07 am

No comment should be removed because the leftist socialist Democrats are engaged in deception and propaganda to promote only views that support so-called "acceptance" of homosexual sodomy. There was nothing hateful in the professor's e-mail. This smacks of totalitarian fascism in that the immoral homosexual-lesbian minority wish to silence all religious, scientific and philosophical viewpoints that object to their agenda. Homosexuality is immoral - that is not so-called "hate speech." Unfounded accusations like that are based upon shame and guilt on the part of homosexuals which they fantasize will disappear if they sanitize the universe of discourse and stiffle public debate. Our inalienable rights to freedoms of thought, speech, religion, expression, press, peaceable assembly and petitition cannot be abrogated simply because of a mere self-serving baseless accusation intended to silence legitimate opposing views. It is true: anal sex is unnatural; the anus is for excretion of wastematter. The vagina is a female sex organ created for the male penis. That is not so-called "hate speech." This is the stark truth, this is reality, this is science, this is biology. Homosexuals-lesbians wish to contrive a world of fantasy whereby everybody toes the line in using sanitized and sterile words like "gay," "alternative lifestyle," "same sex marriages," etc... instead of bringing "truth to power" as they so hypocritically proclaim regarding other subjects like apartheid. Homosexual sodomy is not only unnatural, but it is as immoral as it is anti-life, anti-science, anti-women, anti-biology, anti-logic and anti-good sense. This fascism must stop. My God, this is the United States of America, the original birthplace of spiritual liberty, religious freedom, and freedom of conscience! Homosexuality is immoral, wrong and unnatural. That is not so-called "hate speech." That is reality, truth, and real scientific, common sense. We pray all of you come to your senses and repent, instead of taking pride in an abomination that spreads disease and death!

bgrave1 wrote on July 10, 2010 at 11:07 am

<<<<<< Homosexuality is immoral, wrong and unnatural. That is not so-called "hate speech." That is reality, truth, and real scientific, common sense. We pray all of you come to your senses and repent, instead of taking pride in an abomination that spreads disease and death! >>>>>>>

What part of that was not "Hate Speech"?

So, would you say "Because God wants it that way" or "Because Nature wants it that way"?

There is always the "This is my opinion and I can't speak for others" comment..... I imagine you won't go that way though.....

My next 2 pennies....

WRITETORIGHT wrote on July 10, 2010 at 12:07 pm

We are human beings who know right from wrong, truth from falsehood, and good from evil. For example, theft is wrong, immoral, unlawful, and illegal, and we have laws, courts and jails to prove it. Consequently, the real question is: As every specific organ is created for its own respective biological function in processing the laws of thermodynamics for affirming and sustaining natural life and morally right living that must go hand-in-hand, then, for breakfast, do you drink water, milk or juice, or do you drink sulfuric acid from your battery? You can't drink sulfuric acid for breakfast, thus, in this context, it is not a matter of opinion. Likewise, you will run from carbon monoxide once you know it's there, and will rush to oxygen in order to live. Thus, there are absolute standards of right and wrong sustained by natural law for life-affirming moral liberty and political freedom. We are not monkeys, we are Human beings created in the image and unto the likeness of God, from whom, as the Declaration of Independence firmly states, our inalienable rights originate. Thus, there are willful choices such as anal sex that are both immoral and unnatural, as practiced in homosexuality and lesbianism.

NickfromPange wrote on July 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Honestly if this isn't hateful then what is?

But you are right, we are human beings, and we have god given rights. So why are you trying to deny the rights of some of god's children to express the sexual orientation they were born with?

Stephen wrote on July 10, 2010 at 7:07 pm

WRITETORIGHT:

I would argue that right and wrong are either taught to a person or derived from natural empathy. (That is, even if a person isn't taught that torturing an animal is wrong, they might refrain from doing so because they can feel the animal's pain empathetically.) Anyone who has a healthy relationship with their natural empathy would be overjoyed that people who are not meant to be with people of the opposite sex can still find fulfillment with people in the same condition.

I think your heart is really, really hardened.

Clearbrook wrote on July 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm
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Stephen, You ask others to accept your moral code and not question it. However, by your very objection to their opinion, you do not see them as worthy of the same honor. Your Code is based upon "feelings" and "empathy" more than anything else, it seems. Does that make it invalid? Nope, but I might be able to "feel" differently about torture and killing, and that would not make it right either, now would it? So your feelings don't validate YOUR moral code either. They merely EXPLAIN IT, and explaining something is not that same as making it valid.

I'll allow others to have their own Moral Codes, weak as they may be, as long as they reciprocate. Don't do that, and forget about it! That is not from a part of my moral code as much as it is from a pragmatic response of courtesy. I expect courtesy in return, or courtesy looses all meaning a blunt honesty trumps all that is left! Courtesy has value, and extending it to moral actions is best done by utilitarianism. In that context, it is worth it for me to be courtesous to you if I can expect the same in return. But for me, utilitarianism is NOT a basis for morality, only a basis for pragmatism. So I can be rude, I just often choose not to be and it is a matter of habit.

Don't accuse someone you don't know of having a hard heart. That is RUDE!

Clearbrook wrote on July 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm
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It is true: anal sex is unnatural; the anus is for excretion of wastematter. The vagina is a female sex organ created for the male penis. That is not so-called "hate speech." This is the stark truth, this is reality, this is science, this is biology.

The opinion that homosexuality is immoral, wrong and unnatural is an entitled opinion. Just as yours is. That the author is blunt and forceful is not hate language. You are pretty blunt yourself, bgrave1. It was not hate speech. It was "Speech YOU Hate" and there is a great bit of diference. So what part of that was "Hate Speech" if you don't mind me asking? I don't see it. I see strong emotion. I don't see any less from you. If one is "hateful" so is the other.

A word of advice: Think about it.

Becky08 wrote on July 10, 2010 at 11:07 am

I agree that there was nothing wrong with this email. I even found it interesting to ponder the points made. Whether or not you agree or disagree with the idea of NMT, the man was not imposing his beliefs on the class or anyone else who may be reading this email now. I'm guessing had people not known he was Catholic, or had it been a protestant or atheist teaching the course, people would not have been so riled up. It is only because this man believes what he is teaching. And I would much rather take a course on Catholicism from a Catholic, just like I would rather take a class on Islam from a Muslim or Luther and the Reformation from a Lutheran, or a Queer Studies class from a homosexual. These people who believe in what is being taught in a class on that topic and experience it in their daily lives are (in general) more knowledgeable in the area.

And as for what you said Tony, I also agree that much worse has been said and nothing has happened. I was in a class where I was constantly belittled and openly harassed to the point of tears by the Professor for what seemed to be no good reason. Her derogatory treatment of me was actually detrimental to my grade as well. The entire class noticed it and commented on it and tried to come to my defense. At the end of the semester, after I received my grade, I brought it to the attention of the department and NOTHING was done about it. At all. I was waved off.

It seems to me, the University is off to persecute this poor man for doing what he was hired to do, and doing it well. Shame on you UofI. Shame on you.

mspontiac wrote on July 10, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Good grief...I would hate to be in this class. The email alone put me to sleep halfway through.

Clearbrook wrote on July 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm
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You know, of all the people arguing for or against the professor, yours simple post here was possibly the one with most clarity and frank, honest and perhaps perceptive explanation than anyone else. Reading it *was* a challenge.

Kudos!

David in Houston wrote on July 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Whenever someone uses obvious "slippery slope" arguments regarding man/child and man/dog sex, they lose all credibility. It really is beneath someone with a Ph.D. to grasp at such inane concepts to prove their point. There is a term "age of consent" that applies to all morally accepted sexual behavior. Children are intellectually, emotionally and physically incapable of consenting to adult sex. Does that really need to be explained?

There is an immense amount of scientific evidence that demonstrates that sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic that people are born with: identical twin studies, male birth order studies, gay/straight brain scan studies. To ignore this research does a disservice to the students, who might be struggling with their own sexual orientation issues.

The teacher also fails to acknowledge that some heterosexual couples participate in sodomy. Look up the word... they do. Based on his "theories", heterosexual sex is just as immoral as the homosexual version. Also, his reasonings behind why people get sex change operations is laughable. They do so because they feel they were born as the wrong gender. Not because they want to experience new ways to have kinky sex. This is just common sense and common knowledge.

Karamazov wrote on July 12, 2010 at 1:07 am

Dr. Howell was not using a "slippery slope" argument. He set up a logical syllogism and then replaced the terms to illustrate an example of the logic of utilitarianism, which is a valid logical move. It seems that he did this in order to show how such examples would hold true in a utilitarian structure. I may be wrong, but it seemed that Dr. Howell wanted nothing more than his reader to understand what they accept if they accept this utilitarian definition. He, probably being intelligent, wouldn't intentionally use a logical fallacy nor is it likely that he would accidentally slip into such an obvious one as the "slippery slope" argument. Read more cautiously next time when you begin reading an article that you know you are going to disagree with the author. To give anything less than the benefit of the doubt to the author, whom you may suspect but haven't confirmed has a sharp intellect, is intellectual dishonesty. A benefit you seem to have denied Dr. Howell when reading his section on sex changes, since he does not insinuate a specific reason for people's desiring sex changes other than that they have made a distinction between sexuality/the body and who they are as individuals in that we can "manipulate our bodies to be whatever we want them to be."

crossdan218 wrote on July 14, 2010 at 12:07 am

I can see where you could take his argument as one of a "slippery slope" but that is not what he is going for. He is giving clear albeit extreme (and he acknowledges it) example of how unconvincing the argument of mutual consent is to morality. The age of consent is even insufficient as he points out, because there could still be an imbalance of information. Maybe one partner has an STI and does not inform the other partner. I would not call that "informed consent" because one partner was not privy to all of the information and possible risks of the act. Also, animals and children aside, the point is that even two consenting, heterosexual adults engaging in sodomy IS wrong! I guarantee you he would agree to that whole-heartedly. And it's not less wrong because they're heterosexual, it's just as wrong.

Additionally, he is not ignoring research about the genetics of being homosexual versus heterosexual. Regardless of how the brain thinks and perceives things, human beings are physically built to be compatible with the opposite sex. We do have the trickiness of a consciousness and sufficiently increased brain faculties over the rest of the animal kingdom, but physically, these distinctions remain the same. The viewpoint of the Catholic Church, which you can (and I encourage you to) look up in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," is that homosexuality should not be unjustly punished or ostracized from society, but because of its unnaturalness is a burden for the person who has the feelings. That is to say, homosexuality isn't bad or wrong, but homosexual acts (and any acts not open to the possibility for life like contraception and sodomy, but that's an entirely different discussion) are, and they are wrong regardless of the sexual disposition of the participants. The same rationale argues against the sex change in that it has just become the view in society today that if we don't like something we just change it instead of taking responsibility and playing with the cards we were dealt. He was in no way alluding to having a sex change for a kinky new way to have sex, merely that discomfort or belief that one was "born wrong" is not a worthy reason to alter the structure with which we were created. If you disagree with the worthiness of that reason, that is fine, but I encourage you to at least consider the possibility that he was merely saying that he and the Catholic teachings about which the course is designed to inform the students does not consider it so. Thanks!

Tony wrote on July 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm

For some reason he happens to believe, as the Catholic Church says, that certain things are wrong. Regardless of his personal beliefs, he should still be allowed to clarify the Church's position on the issues.

Why is it that anti-Bush sentiments and such are the ones that go uncensored?

NickfromPange wrote on July 10, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Even if you agree or disagree with his morals, I believe this email to be nothing but poorly researched crap that lacks actual scientific facts and truths. If anything he should have been fired for being a bad teacher.

crossdan218 wrote on July 13, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Though not a very kind way of phrasing it there, I believe there are perhaps some weaknesses in his arguments, however; his topic of discussion is NOT focused on rigorously researching what secular science has to say on the effects of homosexuality. One cannot deny that in "some cases" as he purports, certain sexual acts can be harmful to the bodily health of one or both males engaging in sexual acts. The idea he is presenting is not that in 85% of cases this is true, or in 25% of cases this is true. The point is that the bodies are not naturally built for the act and this flies in the face of Natural Moral Law as the Catholic Church presents it, and this IS the topic of the course. He is not a bad teacher for this, as I'm sure that if a student retorted with some reasonable scientific research to the contrary of this expression, Dr. Howell would have either done additional research to back his own point up (much as the student would have just done) and in the meantime acknowledged the counterargument of the student as a valid expression of HIS/HER views. That is what real dialogue is all about.

Stephen wrote on July 10, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I utterly disagree with the concepts that Professor Howell explains in this email (...that is to say, homosexuality is morally okay by me), but his dismissal is totally unjustified and a real educational loss. I am rapidly losing respect for U of I Champaign.

Let's review the purpose of a focused college religion class such as this (I have taken one). You take it to learn about a given religion. Not just that -- you want to try to understand the religion from the inside out, as if you were a follower of that religion. Of course you'll never fully understand a religion unless you join it, but the fact that Professor Howell is a practicing Catholic who shares his views with his students means that his students are privy to another level of understanding. They have a human example of Catholicism right there in the classroom! It's really sad that a university that thinks so highly of itself doesn't know an educational opportunity when it stares them in the face. Does U of I believe in REAL education or watered-down, politically correct education?

What has this professor done wrong? Since when has it been unacceptable for professors to profess their views, GIVEN that they allow their students to disagree with them and to express their disagreement? Professor Howell allowed for disagreement; he claims that he always made that clear to his students. All he asked of them is that they would learn the Catholic arguments and suspend their biases long enough to assess them objectively.

College courses SHOULD be controversial. A liberal arts education is about being exposed to ideas, contemplating them, accepting or rejecting them, and hopefully changing or solidifying your own position. The students in this class could have come away from it with much more self-checked, sound arguments for their beliefs, but it seems that they wasted their time bickering and being offended, instead.

This professor didn't coerce them to accept his views, but merely challenged them to hold their preexisting beliefs up against Catholic reasoning. What a perfect opportunity to strengthen one's pro-homosexuality stance!

That being said, I have a suspicion that this professor has his flaws as a teacher. Particularly, he seems to be poorly educated in the realm of human sexuality, which is unacceptable given that his subject and the subject of human sexuality clearly intersect. (Professors are supposed to be EXPERTS!) It seems that his squeamishness has held him back from really investigating the nature of homosexual relationships, which has seriously diminished the quality of his argument. See how he attempts an unconvincing and irrelevant argument about how anal sex (which he cannot muster the courage to type) is "sometimes" damaging to health. It's this unwillingness to learn about things he is not comfortable with that signifies that his arguments have not received adequately rigorous testing. What a good opportunity for students to see the value of testing arguments -- what a good opportunity to become better critical thinkers!

Judy Olson wrote on July 12, 2010 at 10:07 am

It's obvious this guy has issues. The message purports in the beginning to be *about* utilitarianism, with homosexuality supposedly an example--not the point of the message. But he never mentions what i learned, at least, was the distinguishing feature of utilitarianism: the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. More strikingly, he *drops* utilitarianism part way through, never to return, and turns instead to "Natural Law"--making it clear that his purpose is not after all to explain utilitarianism but to make an argument about homosexuality grabbing at any philosophical structure that seems useful. And note that he's doing this on his off time in an overly--one might say obsessively--detailed message. Supplementing by his own admission an inadequacy in his lecture. I've known a few other religious closet cases in my life . . . I'm deeply alarmed by the absence of academic freedom for faculty members off the tenure track--but this guy's agenda alarms me too. Academic freedom is supposed to protect people whose arguments are *within* disciplinary norms.

kheff wrote on July 12, 2010 at 10:07 am

No, the email doesn't say it's about utilitarianism. It's clarifying a class discussion about homosexuality that brought up two views on the subject -- utilitarianism vs. natural law. The students receiving the email were IN the class, so probably grasped that, even if you didn't. And the professor did it in his "off time" because he was preparing the students for a final, and professors tend to send emails outside of class. His "agenda" is to teach the topic of the class -- Catholicism -- and his email explains what they ran out of class time to cover. His argument is within his discipline because it's about the religion he is teaching. Where is the problem?

Judy Olson wrote on July 12, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Read again, please. This is the very first sentence: "Since there is a question on the final exam about utilitarianism (see the review sheet), I thought I would help with an example."

kheff wrote on July 12, 2010 at 4:07 pm

He's defining utilitarianism because there is a question about utilitarianism on the exam that arose from the class discussion on homosexuality. Either way, whether you think the email should be exclusively about utilitarianism from then on or whether he is free to clarify and add to the class conversation, I don't think sending an email about the topic means he has an agenda. He was clarifying a class discussion, and that's part of his job, and all of the topics covered are well within his discipline.

crossdan218 wrote on July 13, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Utilitarianism is simple the weighing of practical outcomes and deciding based on the perceived value of these different outcomes, as Dr. Howell said. It is true, however, that the usual representation of utilitarianism is in the broadest sense of "the greatest good for the greatest number" as you stated. The concept is the same, the difference being where the individual chooses to draw the line for consideration.

For example, I could choose what seems to be the best option for just myself and go for example on a fishing trip, but this would be considered selfish (although still an example of utilitarianism). I could then reconsider what would be best for me AND my family and instead take everyone to the amusement park that weekend instead (better choice we'd say, but one could now choose to stop or continue to expand). I could then say that the amusement park doesn't pay good wages and it hurts the local environment with pollutants, so going there would be a detriment to a lot more people for the cost of my fun weekend with my family, and my money would be better spent on maybe a charity helping someone else. The "what if's" if you will, could go on forever given the multitude of choices we are faced with every single second of every single day. Utilitarianism can be focused on a small scale or a large scale, but the principles are as he defines them in the e-mail. I hope this was not too elaborate or confusing of a reply!

Clearbrook wrote on July 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm
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Judy, I understand what you are saying. However, I get the impression from the first three paragraphs that this was about clarifying a discussion about homosexuality in the context of utilitarianism. It seems like it started in class and he was left with the impression that the subject was not well covered and utilitarianism was not well identified. I am sure you have been party to some of those wild and wacky classroom discussions that were all over the board. Think of the subject matter. Do you honestly envision that being a polite talk over tea and crumpets? Well, I don't carry any such illusions!

Was his presentation disjointed at some points here or there? I must grant that it was, although by far not the worst I have ever seen. Did he focus on homosexuality more than utilitarianism? Yes, I agree that seems to be the case. Might he have even had a beer or too before writing this, or just plain be tired? Who knows? Have you every written an email while tired and ask yourself later why you did that? I have. I probabaly will make that error again in the future, or use it for an excuse to *not* write when I absolutely should have. Sorry, but we are not perfect here.

If the basis for firing him was less than perfect form and delivery of a message in his email, I suspect they would have to fire a lot more professors than him! I see nothing that rises to the level of hate mail in this email. I accually seem to detect pity, if anything at all. That is not reason to fire him, either, and again, if he goes on that basis, so should a lot of other professors.

I get the impression that He has to be perfect and everyone else does not. Why is that, may I ask? Is that because he is *different* than you are, and you are therefore obligated to treat him with disdain and even outright animosity? I am flipping your classical arguement, you can probably see, but if the shoe fits...

Technically, I could tear his email apart as weak and rambling in places. I could say his focus was not always clear. I could say that personal bias seemed to color his presentation.

I could say that about most of the comments against him on this blog as well. Is that hypocrisy? Only if you continue to willfully do it would I consider it hypocrisy. Otherwise, I would just consider it an example of our fraility as human beings, and that it points out just how much we need each other.

A lot of other people would lose their jobs if whatever standard was used here was used evenhandedly. In the context of his class, I would probably ask upon what Moral Code is such a disparity allowed? You obviously do not like his views. Therefore you argue that protection is only for those "...whose arguments are *within* disciplinary norms."

Whose norms would that be? The Politically Correct crowd? If no-one is the rebel, all society stagnates. The LGBT crowd relies upon this. Is all change good? If so, certainly his changes must be, too. Your arguement drips of prejudice. Step back and examine that truth. I don't ask you to agree with his point of view, just accept it with the legitimacy that you want others to acept yours with. It is called the "Golden Rule" and that concept actually bridges across quite a few Moral Codes that have vastly differing basis. I think that one is pretty universal and valid.

sobrien60 wrote on July 12, 2010 at 5:07 pm

As a loyal Catholic Illini who bleeds orange and blue I am sorry to say that I will now withhold all donations to my beloved cash-strapped university until such time as the anti-Catholic bigotry is formally ended, as official university policy, and until restitution is given to Ken Howell.

Universities should be the place for open dialogue and the free exchange of ideas.

mandy wrote on July 13, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Ah yes. Money. Either you re-hire Dr.Howell or we don't give you money. And you talk about free exchange of ideas! Wasn't this the kind of pressure that caused Herman and White to lose their jobs?

Dr.Howell's e-mail displayed no free exchange of ideas. It was advocacy of his beliefs. Plus a confused understanding of utilitarianism.

crossdan218 wrote on July 13, 2010 at 11:07 pm

It was utilitarianism as he was teaching it for the class and as the students were expected to understand it for the exam. I see no problem with his definition of utilitarianism as essentially a cost/benefit analysis of a situation in which the decision is made based on the perceived, practical outcomes. It does not broaden its scope, in this particular example, to "the greater good" to be experienced by everyone, but instead makes the concession that it is left to the individual to determine when they cease looking outward to a broader view and eventually make their choice. Ideas were expressed, but there was an openness and even encouragement to disagree if the students so chose. I think that is the essence of free exchange, not a watered-down, "family friendly" so to speak version of ideas. We must be challenged in order to healthily define our own views for ourselves.

DJMA wrote on July 12, 2010 at 7:07 pm

I'm fairly confident in saying that my being a member of this class, being a student of religion or being a practicing Catholic would not make me better equipped to form an opinion here. If the purpose of this email was to clarify a principle, utilitarianism, that would be featured on a forthcoming exam, then I think the insertion of the professor's own personal viewpoints was superfluous. The email goes off on several tangents and introduces the natural law analysis of things like bestiality, which is a flimsy comparison to the utilitarianist analysis of homosexuality. It would've been better for the professor to have left off numerous paragraphs sooner by returning to a summary of the concept of utilitarianism.

Perhaps he lost his job because he used the University's email server to transmit his personal thoughts on homosexuality and not merely because he holds a Catholic perspective that is critical of homosexuality.

crossdan218 wrote on July 13, 2010 at 11:07 pm

It all, to me, seems like it fits perfectly with his description of how utilitarianism manifests itself in today's society. He certainly doesn't claim that this is the only way, merely an increasingly more common way. The fact that he uses the issue of homosexuality and Natural Moral Law approach to it makes perfect sense given the fact that the topic of the class is Catholic Teaching or Catholic Theology. One could expect, before even enrolling in the course, that these beliefs and tenets would be not only expressed but believed and defended in such a class taught by a Catholic professor. He has strictly done nothing wrong and only expressed a viewpoint with which the students are not required to agree and are not penalized for disagreeing.

Clearbrook wrote on July 16, 2010 at 1:07 pm
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Maybe he could have left out some of his dialogue. As for inserting his own personal viewpoints being superfluous, I have to disagree. I don't think he at all said "here is my opinion and you must agree" and instead opened himself up to attack if anyone was able to use the Socratic Method. In my mind, as a professor, he has a duty to expound if there is any doubt as to whether he has sufficiently covered the material. That he should come from a well understood basis for him to illuminate his explanation makes it more likely that he can coherently convey the idea he is trying to get across, that utilitarianism differs from other forms of Moral Basis. Compared to other incoherent ramblings I have been subjected to when I was a student, I think his "tangents" were deeply needed. Since you complain that he "goes off on several tangents and introduces the natural law analysis of things like bestiality, which is a flimsy comparison to the utilitarianist analysis of homosexuality," you are actually arguing quite effectively that he should have expounded MORE upon this, and not spent less time on it. You are also quite effectively expressing your own bias on the subject, I might add.

If you were to say that he could have used a less politically charged subject, I will agree. If you argue that he *should* have used a less politically charged subject, I will not agree. That is the path of most cowards who are trying to "teach" morality while being unwilling to practice their own convictions. Of course, if your viewpoints are in line with what is considered Politically Correct, it does not take any bravery at all to speak out. If, however, you find the repression of free thought and free speech in a place of "higher learning" reprehensible, (and I think I detect that in him -- and such a view is validated by the University's very response) you really have not got a choice. It would be immoral to not confront what you thought of as such an evil, even if you were not confronting it directly. That is a choice each person must make based upon *their* Moral Code. If you allow people who may or may not have solid ground to base their acceptance of something as controversial as homsexuality to make their own Moral Choices, than it is *extremely* prejudictial and hypocritical to expect that others with differing perspectives should not have that same freedom, especially when it comes to free speech.

This isn't HATE speech. I have seen what that looks like, and have seen a lot of it from the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender crowd directed towards anyone who would simply *suggest* that they *might* be wrong. There is plenty of room to throw stones at every side in this subject. This professor's email does not rise to the level where they should be thrown at him for it, though! Those that are doing so are in some cases themselves engaging in the HATE SPEECH they so venomously decry with great hypocritical acting flair!

Tabitha wrote on July 12, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Dear Writetoright:
Ditto!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

djhartm wrote on July 13, 2010 at 5:07 pm

The fact that this professor was dismissed because he accurately, and justly conveyed the tenets of the Christian faith with regard to it's position homosexuality is patently absurd, and an egregious travesty. The coward that felt so 'offended', and his cohort should be profoundly embarrassed by their actions as should the officials that called for his dismissal. This epitomizes the sad (and oft ignored) duality of LGBT people; they expect complete tolerance & support of their lifestyle from others, yet they are woefully intolerant of anyone that opposes them in any manner. It sickens me. I only hope that this school will be the target of a massive lawsuit so that it may learn something from this horrific mistake.

Illinigrad4u wrote on July 14, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Should it come as a surprise to anyone that the U of I should be any different from other universities insofar as so-called progressives and the politically correct crowd prevail? The notion of free exchange of ideas seems only to apply insofar as one agrees with what is said. This is not truly about fairness, justice or free speech. It's about wielding power to quash expression of thought that differs from those in administration.
What I find appalling is that this professor loses his job as a consequence of an anonymous complaint for doing what seems to fall clearly under the auspices of trying to teach the subject matter at hand.
As a student of theology in a Catholic institution, my assessment is that Prof. Howell advances a reasonable philosophical basis for Catholic teaching on the matter. It is not a sudden revelation that Catholicism regards homosexual behavior to be immoral. Should not a study of Catholicism provide some underpinning of Catholic thought behind its teachings and morality? Is doing so not part of the job description?
May we speculate there were those who don't like this course because they are anti-Catholic? Was there conflict with Prof. Howell within the department because of that issue? Did this just provide a convenient opportunity to dump the guy? It will be interesting to see if the course offering is subsequently dropped.
Speculating further, would an e-mail from a professor of Islamic studies explaining the stance of jihadic destruction of Christians and Jews, or a black studies professor detailing the previously-expressd opinion that whites and Jews are the scourge of the black man in America, have led to such a furor and a dismissal? Doubtful. Nor should it have here.

increvable wrote on July 16, 2010 at 12:07 am

To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the "woman" while the other acts as the "man." In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted.

I didn't catch this before. This is completely asinine. Being penetrated during sex, which I gather is what Howell means by his euphemism about men acting like "women", does not equate to being feminine. All our bodies, male, female and anything in between, are quite well fitted for both penetrating and being penetrated in numerous ways. Conducting oneself in a moral way w/r/t sexuality is much more about how you treat your partner or partners emotionally and mentally, not what you do with them physically.

None of this is to say that Howell should have been fired for believing these deeply ignorant things. However, if he can only repeat what the Church has taught him, perhaps he's just not a very good teacher.

Clearbrook wrote on July 16, 2010 at 12:07 pm
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If I were your instructor in THIS COURSE where the idea is to understand different ways of approaching Morality, using Utilitarianism, or Systematic Absolutism, (as you are more likely exhibiting with your judgemental comment calling him to task for simply voicing "deeply ignorant things") or Natural Moral Theory/Law, guess what? I think you would fail miserably. That same Systematic Absolutism that you are hypocritically using is exactly what people like yourself blindly accuse others of. You obviously just lack the ability to apply whatever moral standard you are using consistently! That makes a lot of what you say non sequitur. Your "Moral Standard" is seemingly based upon emotion, and you are a failure here in that regard! If there is NO SUCH THING AS MORALITY, then we are all in the same boat, and quite honestly, Niccolò Machiavelli or Friedrich Nietzsche make as much sense to follow as any other for a Moral Compass.

I don't buy that. If we are animals, there is no law and there is no morality and anything you cry out against as "injustice" is just the bleating of a pathetic sheep, ready to be used as some stronger animal wants to! I don't buy that, either, but when that kind of result is visited upon those who do, there IS a sense of justice in that natural consequence. (that is emotion, by the way -- and NOT a moral judgement!)

He could have just as easily talked about War and Morality. If you take the Utilitarianism route there, then war CAN be morally justified! I am sure you would just LOVE that. I personally believe that at best, war may be AMORAL, and at worst is IMMORAL -- but can never be MORAL. I don't have the time to go into the basis of that, but at least I *have* a well thought and not an animalistic emotional basis for that position.

The only good thing I see is that at least you can see how over the top the University was. Their thought process is not any more sophisiticated than a lot of other Politically Correct non-thinkers, and at least you can still see that. There is hope for you!

As for what the "Church Taught Him" I could argue a small and techincal point with him. He said:

Catholics don't arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality.

I can say that I disagree. They *say* that they do so based upon a thorough understanding of natural reality. They may even be correct that their position matches up quite closely with natural reality more than another contrary moral code. However, to argue that they somehow never had the influence of personal emotional input and bias ever sway the current position is to express that he has more knowledge than he possibly could. If they are right, it is despite our human nature that they were able to get there. Somewhere along the line, strong moral minds *did* influence this outcome, but to say that emotion never had a play is absurd. I know people.

However, this was a course about the Catholic Church, and for that reason, the context and examples he used were correct. I'll also grant him the same lattitude that I give to most writers of history books. They tend to paint their heros in as kind a light as they can. We are, after all, emotional animals, are we not?

gsl2006 wrote on July 16, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I don't see any problem here. This firing was sound reaction of sound administration of Marine Corps Training Center.